Amazon Primary day has ended, but there are still discounts available for streaming devices from Roku, Google, An apple and Amazon. These sticks and boxes allow you to connect to your TV via an HDMI cable and watch your favorites shows and movies from Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus and other services.
Many smart TVs come with some sort of operating system that can download streaming apps, but add-on streaming devices often have simpler remotes, more apps, better search and more frequent updates than the operating system built into your set. They’re also a much more affordable alternative to upgrading your entire TV.
We’ve reviewed nearly every streaming device and major smart TV system available today, including Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon, and Apple TV. Keep reading as we break down the best streaming devices available right now.
Read more: The best streaming service of 2022
Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming app options, the simplest streaming platform interface, and the best search. It also has a content-agnostic platform that doesn’t favor any streaming media provider like Amazon Prime Video or Apple over another. The Express 4K Plus Streaming Media Player is one of the cheapest options for streaming 4K HDR TV. (Even if your current TV doesn’t support these formats, the next one probably will.) Thanks to the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the cheapest ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. It’s cheaper than the company’s Streaming Stick 4K Plus and other 4K HDR streaming devices, and it’s our top pick for the best streaming device overall.
Read our Roku Express 4K Plus review.
Chromecast with Google TV isn’t quite as good as the Roku Express 4K Plus, but it comes closer than any other device on the market. The Chromecast beats the Roku by adding Dolby Vision compatibility, but its biggest strength on the smart device is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding things to watch. We also like the impressive integration with other Google services like Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface seems more advanced than Roku’s, but ultimately we prefer Roku’s simpler approach, no-nonsense search results, and lower price. However, the new Chromecast is a better choice of smart streaming device for those already living in Google’s world.
Read our Chromecast with Google TV review.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is the long-awaited update to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It features the same simple interface, large selection of apps and impressive search function found on all Roku devices, but also offers Dolby Vision support. Along with a stick-like design, Dolby Vision HDR is the main difference between the Streaming Stick 4K and the Express 4K Plus, and is seemingly the reason why the Streaming Stick 4K is more expensive than its sibling. While we think the Streaming Stick 4K is a great device, we’re just not sold on the Dolby Vision upgrade – mostly because we generally don’t think it provides a significant upgrade in image quality over standard HDR. But if Dolby Vision is important to you, this device will not disappoint.
Read our Roku Streaming Stick 4K review.
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you prefer the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus, you might like the Roku Express better. But Lite beats Express in terms of features for the money. The biggest advantage of this Fire TV remote is built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to the Alexa Voice Remote. The Fire Stick’s remote also doesn’t need direct line of sight to work. If you don’t want to upgrade to a 4K player, the Lite is your cheapest bet.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.
If you’re looking for a fast device, look no further than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Max loads apps almost instantly and navigating the system is quick and smooth. Even better, the Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and almost all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside of the Max is its Fire TV platform and the fact that ads are featured prominently throughout. We just don’t appreciate turning the TV into a giant rotating billboard for content or ads when it’s in screensaver mode. But it’s a good choice for those looking for a fast device or those tied to the Amazon ecosystem. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the best Fire Stick on the market today and well worth the extra money over the standard Fire TV Stick 4K.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review.
Roku’s most expensive streaming box is more than twice the price of our best streaming device, but you might appreciate its extra features enough to want the upgrade. The 2022 model is almost identical to previous versions, but now comes bundled with the excellent Voice Remote Pro.
But if you really love the remote and want to save some money, you can try this on Roku something else package, on Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus, which also includes Voice Remote Pro. The Streaming Stick 4K’s processor isn’t as powerful as the Ultra’s, but it can do almost all the same tricks as Dolby Vision HDR.
Otherwise, the Ultra continues to deliver Dolby Vision video, faster responses than the Streaming Stick 4K, improved Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port – especially welcome if your home Wi-Fi is congested.
Read our Roku Ultra (2022) review.
The perfect foil to the affordable 4K streaming devices above, the Apple TV 4K is the better choice for people who want to check every feature box. It’s also for those buyers who want an Apple device to use Apple Arcade for games or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription packages. Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR and TV calibration feature, while those with older Apple boxes will love the new and improved remote.
For most people, though, Apple’s venerable streaming device with a remote just isn’t worth the money, especially now that Roku has almost all the major apps and AirPlay. If you really want Dolby Vision, you can find it on the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for a fraction of the price.
Read our Apple TV 4K review.
Sound bars with built-in streaming may be a relatively recent development, but Roku’s new Streambar nails it. It has the Roku interface we know and love, complete with 4K HDR with enhanced sound for any TV, especially for dialogue. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar media streamer makes more sense for most people.
Read our Roku Streambar review.
Sure, it’s an expensive multimedia device – and that’s before adding a game controller – with 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, compared to 16GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, but if you want a streaming player video in any case , The Shield is it. In addition to 4K streaming and HDR, it offers a solid library of games, both console and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant, complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capability, integration of HDHomeRun and many more.
Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.
How we test streaming devices
Every streaming device we review gets hours of hands-on testing. Typically, this involves installing the device on multiple TVs, evaluating the setup process, adding popular streaming channels, and using the product as if it were our own. We use all the main features available on the platform and note how they stack up against the competition. To do this, we connect competing streaming devices to the same TV so we can easily switch back and forth to compare experiences.
Our metrics we look at to evaluate a device include: hardware design and features, remote capabilities and design, overall ease of use of the platform, efficient layouts and design, search capabilities, privacy settings, number of apps and their performance, and overall system speed and reliability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do streaming devices have monthly fees?
No. The streaming devices themselves have no monthly fees. However, channels you can watch on streaming devices, such as Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu, require users to pay monthly fees to access their content.
Do you need a streaming device with a smart TV?
Not necessarily. Many smart TVs come with their own streaming platform where users can download popular apps like Netflix and Hulu. Samsung smart TVs offer pretty solid options. In addition, TVs now come with more mainstream streaming platforms such as Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV built-in.
Problems can occur when your TV interface is missing some of the content you need. For example, Spectrum users who have an LG smart TV will not be able to find the Spectrum app through the LG platform. Instead, they’ll have to pick up a Roku, Apple TV, or Google Chromecast to stream their cable package. Generally speaking, streaming-centric devices from Roku or Amazon tend to have more apps available than a streaming platform from a TV manufacturer. Of course, as you’ll see below, there are some exceptions.
Can I get all the channels I want on every device?
Every streaming device has major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime. However, not all services have access to every streaming channel out there. Once again, the Spectrum TV app proves illustrative. It’s available on most platforms, but not on any Amazon Fire TV device. It might be a good idea to check which device has the apps you need before making a purchase. Otherwise, you may be in for a nasty surprise when you find out that your device doesn’t have an app for one of your favorite services.
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